30 Apr 2019
A medical practitioner has been suspended by a tribunal for professional misconduct following comments he made on online internet forums and chat sites.
Dr Christopher Kwan Chen Lee was referred to the Tasmanian Health Practitioners Tribunal (tribunal) by the Medical Board of Australia (the Board) following a notification it received about comments Dr Lee posted online while residing in Hobart between 9 to 10 December 2016. The Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA) investigated the conduct and further online posts were discovered.
The tribunal heard the matter for the first time on 10 January 2019. At the hearing, Dr Lee advised that he would be prepared to proceed immediately to conciliation. Conciliation between the Board and Dr Lee began on 22 January 2019. As a result of the conciliation the parties made a joint submission to the tribunal on 14 March 2019.
The tribunal, in considering the submission, agreed with the Board’s determination that Dr Lee’s conduct constituted professional misconduct under the Health Practitioner Regulation National Law, as in force in each state and territory (National Law). Dr Lee had made numerous inappropriate and offensive statements or comments online in public forums in which he was readily identifiable from his own words and photographs as an Australian medical practitioner. The forums were based overseas but he was at the time employed the Tasmania Health Service. He is now based in Victoria.
Dr Lee admitted he wrote the online posts and published them on the dates and times identified. He said at the time he was relatively young and inexperienced, and he had a brash and opinionated bent to his conduct on social media. He stated that he did not fully appreciate that posting comments on an overseas online forum would have consequences on his practice of medicine in Australia.
The tribunal determined that Dr Lee had been in breach of the Board’s Code of conduct and social media policy which ‘reminds the reader that “[w]hen using social media, health practitioners should remember that the National Law, their National Board’s code of ethics and professional conduct ... apply.”’
In the submission, Dr Lee stated that he could demonstrate that he had received no violations surrounding direct patient care through his entire medical career, and a recent clinical supervisor can confirm the respondent has constantly conducted himself in a professional and compassionate manner while in the workplace. The submission was accompanied by a letter of support from the supervisor, who is an emergency physician with many years of experience in emergency medicine in Australia. He had worked closely with Dr Lee when he was a registrar in the emergency department in 2018 and 2019. The supervisor was also fully aware of the inappropriate online conduct, as he had attended the conciliation conference with Dr Lee.
In determining what was an appropriate outcome for the matter, the tribunal considered a number of like cases by way of comparison. The tribunal agreed with the Board’s determination that Dr Lee’s behaviour constituted professional misconduct. The tribunal ordered that he be reprimanded and suspended for a period of six weeks and also imposed a condition on his registration requiring him to undertake education on ethical behaviour and communications.
The commencement of the period of suspension was to be stayed for two weeks from 16 April 2019.
The full determination is available on the Austlii website and linked to the National Register.